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CLAYTON RYE

By Staff | Jan 20, 2012

It is so subtle that it is easy to not see it at all. But it represents a huge change in livestock production.

What am I talking about? I am talking about the disappearance of fences.

Fences were once so common that fence building and maintenance were part of a farmer’s routine.

Today, fences are disappearing and seeing a newly built fence is a rare sight.

Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, fences were needed because they kept livestock from roaming the countryside.

I remember each year my dad would have a field of alfalfa that was the previous year’s field of oats. Part of the alfalfa field was for baling hay for the cattle, and the other part was to become that year’s hog pasture.

That required building additional fencing to create the last two sides of the pasture’s enclosure.

Once the alfalfa field had a good fence and gate, A-houses were brought in along with a couple of open front sheds that were on skids.

The water tank was placed in the field and a quarter mile or more of garden hose was run to provide water.

Then the water tank got a float, the water turned on, and the pregnant sows were herded to the field. In a short time, the A-houses had little pigs in them and another pig crop was under way.

In the fall, the hogs were brought home and spent the winter in the feedlot with the cattle. Hogs had barns, but were outside much of the time.

That was how it was done until pseudorabies made it necessary to keep hogs and cattle separate. But other changes were going on as well.

In the late ’60s, my dad built a confinement house to raise his hogs. It had a pit under it to contain the manure as the hogs were kept in pens and stood on a slatted floor.

I remember riding with my dad as he shopped for the slats to use for the floor.

He decided on slats of concrete made in a small town across the state line. It was another new business that had started up to meet the growing demand for hog confinement buildings with slats for floors.

My dad continued to raise hogs using his confinement house for farrowing and growing. Once pseudorabies made it necessary to keep hogs separate from cattle, the pens became finishing pens, and the hogs never left the building until they were ready for market.

I watched the transformation of the hog industry from being outside to one that is totally enclosed.

Today’s hog producers can have several buildings that quietly turn out hog numbers in the thousands each year. That was another change as hog producers went from raising hundreds of hogs to thousands.

Hog production today has its proponents and detractors depending on what is believed to be the right way to raise a pig.

There are a few bad operators today who make headlines and give the industry a bad name, but there were a few poor operators back in the ’50s and ’60s, as well.

I can also say that one thing has not changed about the hog industry over all these years-whether pasture farrowing or total confinement – the people raising hogs today are smart operators with a sense of everything necessary to be successful business people.

Today’s hog producers are just like my dad who wanted his animals to be raised with good nutrition in a healthy environment, whether they were indoors or outdoors.

I have a neighbor who is one of the few independent hog producers left. I have watched his fences disappear in recent years and he is using a confinement building to raise his hogs.

I have also, in the last year, been in a hog pasture where hogs were raised in A-houses just like I remember from over 50 years ago and this was a successful hog producer.

Both hog producers, whether raising hogs outside or inside, are good people who have a love of hog production, just like my dad.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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